Foreword

In mid-August, Mud Run Guide broke the news that Rugged Races, the team responsible for the popular Rugged Maniac race, acquired the AllState Hot Chocolate 15K/5K series. I connected with Rob Dickens, Senior Vice President of the Rugged Races, to discover what that means moving forward into 2020. Here’s what he had to say–

The news broke on August 12 that Rugged Races acquired RAM Racing, the team responsible for the ever-popular Allstate Hot Chocolate 15k/5k. Can you tell me how this came about?

We’ve been acquiring (non-OCR) race companies since 2016, so this was simply the latest acquisition in a string of many.  We really liked the Hot Chocolate series because (1) it’s an extremely well-produced event that’s fun for runners, and (2) its race calendar meshes perfectly with Rugged Maniac’s.  Their events are mainly in the winter, and Rugged Maniac’s are mainly in the summer.  This allows us to keep our 100+ employees busy all year long, and it provides more races for our loyal runners to enjoy nationwide.

In the news release, emphasis was placed on growing the brand with “MORE races, MORE medals, and MORE experiences to challenge yourself.” I read in the release to expect road races, OCR, triathlon and cycling as a result. Can you elaborate more on those other events we can expect out of Rugged Races in 2020?

We now own around 100 races throughout North America, including triathlons, marathons, 15K/10K/5K, cycling events, and of course, Rugged Maniac.  We previously purchased a couple of companies in New England that produce 30 road races per year, as well as the companies behind the Providence Marathon, the Milwaukee Marathon, the Santa Rosa (CA) Marathon, and a couple of cycling events.  Our full portfolio of events can be found at ruggedraces.com (which will be undergoing a redesign this month).

On a similar note, thinking specifically of Rugged Maniac, these races span across the US and into Canada–can we expect new locations in 2020, domestic or even internationally? If so, could you identify any locations particularly those that have been heavily requested by the fan base?

We’re always looking to expand, but finding the right venue is challenging, to say the least.  We need venues that (1) have infrastructure like parking lots, electricity, water, easy access in and out, etc., (2) have enough land (ideally with interesting terrain) to build a course, (3) allow us to dig and move earth, and (4) are near a major city.  Not many of those exist, and utilizing a small farm on a two-lane road isn’t going to cut it when you’re expecting 5,000 – 10,000 people. 

We may look at entering a few markets that Warrior Dash abandoned, but we don’t have any definite plans for additional locations in 2020 except a new event at Kentucky Speedway (between Louisville and Cincinnati). 

Does the merger mean anything in terms of challenge for the OCR fan base? RM is known for being accessible to all fitness levels, but new obstacles over the last year or so have introduced a heartier challenge for race veterans, which has been well received by the competitive-recreational athletes. Do you anticipate any shift in the overall challenge or target audience with Rugged Maniac looking to 2020?

Rugged Races’ acquisition of RAM Racing won’t really affect Rugged Maniac.  Rugged Maniac has been the top “entry-level” OCR for the past 3-4 years and we have no plans to change that.  With Warrior Dash gone and a certain other company producing events of questionable quality, it’s more important than ever that new OCR runners have a high-quality entry-level option to serve as their introduction to OCR. 

But just because we’re “entry-level” doesn’t mean our obstacles are easy.  As you noted, we have several obstacles that even experienced OCR runners find daunting, and we offer those looking for even more of a challenge the option of running multiple laps (called RMX).  But our main goal is to ensure that first-timers have such a great time that they fall in love with the sport and help it grow even more.  That’s why our obstacles are the perfect blend of doable and daunting.

I know that timing chips have come and gone with Rugged Maniac, which has received mixed reviews from elite competitors. Is there any chance that this acquisition means the return of timing chips, at least for those elite heats as these serve as qualifiers for the OCR World Championships?

We’d love to be able to offer timing for all runners, but it’s simply a matter of not being able to afford it.  Rugged Maniac essentially breaks even right now, so we’d have to raise our prices to Spartan Race’s level to cover the cost of timing, but that would make OCR too expensive for many first-timers.  And unless OCR can attract new runners, it will eventually die out. 

Of course, we do manually record the top finishers in the Elite Heat so they qualify for the World Championships and will continue to do so going forward.  But if we can figure out a way to add chip timing to the mix in the future without going bankrupt or scaring off newbies, we’ll definitely do it.   

I’m looking forward to my first event in Indiana on Saturday, and I hear the festival is a ton of fun–plus, I live for free samples. Are there any new sponsorships/partnerships in the works that racers can be excited about? What about any new activities in the festival area (i.e., new contests like the pie-eating—which is hilarious, by the way!)?

We’re constantly working on bringing in new sponsors (with free stuff for runners) and fun activities/games for the festival.  This year we have State Farm insurance, Rip It energy drink, Dude Shower wet wipes, and RXBAR as major sponsors, but we’re working on bringing many more sponsors on board in 2020, so stay tuned for announcements about that this winter. 

As for games and activities, pie-eating has been a crowd favorite for the past few years, as has the mechanical bull, so we’ll likely continue doing those, but we’re always open to new ideas from runners about things they’d like to see!

Can you share any big ideas or plans for next year’s event, even if they are relatively vague at this point? We love a good teaser!

We always take a hard look at our obstacles each winter to come up with some new designs that are both fun and challenging.  We’re going to build more obstacles out of trussing because it allows us to do some cool stuff, like Barzan, while inflatables make it easy to add some fun challenges along the way.  We usually make an announcement about new obstacles around February.

Do you have anything, in particular, you’d like to share with Mud Run Guide readers?

Thanks for being loyal OCR fans!  This entire sport wouldn’t exist without you.  Although we produce many other types of events, OCR is by far the most fun and will always be our first love.  Stay Rugged!

Find more events at the Rugged Races website.